Merit School of Music

Gala 2024

Save the Date!

Gala 2025

Friday, April 25, 2025 · Four Seasons Chicago

Honoring Emanuel Ax

Thank you to all who joined for unforgettable evening benefiting equal access and excellence in music education at Gala 2024. 

We hope you join us next year as we gather together as a Merit community, experience amazing student performances, and honor our special guest, Emanuel Ax, for his contributions to the arts.

Students from the Merit Brass Ensemble performing on stage at Merit Gala 2023.

Gala 2024 Honored

Ellard (Butch) L. Pfaelzer, Jr.

and Thomas (Tom) M. Leopold

Alice S. Pfaelzer Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts


Morgan Lewis

Corporate Leadership Award


Ellard (Butch) L. Pfaelzer, Jr.​ & Thomas (Tom) M. Leopold

Alice S. Pfaelzer Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts

We are thrilled to honor Ellard (Butch) L. Pfaelzer and Thomas (Tom) Leopold with the 2024 Alice S. Pfaelzer Award for Distinguished Service to the Arts. This esteemed award, named after Butch’s late wife and co-founder of Merit School of Music, Alice S. Pfaelzer, recognizes their outstanding contributions and unwavering commitment to the arts. This dynamic duo is often together on the golf course, in the board room, and everywhere in between!

Butch is tremendously proud to have been a part of the birth of Merit in 1979. A leader in the meat industry, Butch spent many years with the Bruss Company, eventually becoming Chairman and CEO, and served as Chairman of the U.S. Meat Export Federation. He first joined Merit’s Board
in 2005 and now serves as a Life Trustee. In addition to his dedication to Merit, Butch’s philanthropy has impacted many through his support of charitable organizations such as the Jewish Vocational Service, Highland Park Hospital, and the Executive Service Corps of Chicago. Butch is
a proud graduate of Amherst College and veteran of the U.S. Army’s Quartermaster Corps.

Tom learned about Merit from his friend, Butch, and in 2012 he joined the Board of Trustees. Born and raised in Highland Park, IL, Tom served in the United States Army stationed in Heidelberg, Germany, and graduated from the University of Michigan. He then built an impressive career working at the former Continental Bank in Chicago which later became Bank of America. Tom calls upon his skills of persuasion that he honed so well in his career to raise generous funding for Merit every year. At one point, he volunteered so extensively at Merit that he even had his own cubicle in the administrative offices!

We are grateful to Butch and Tom for their many years of support and dedication to Merit School of Music and were thrilled to recognize them at Gala 2024.


Morgan Lewis

Corporate Leadership Award

Morgan Lewis is recognized for exceptional client service, legal innovation, and commitment to its communities. Its global depth reaches across North America, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East with the collaboration of more than 2,200 lawyers and specialists who provide elite legal services across industry sectors for multinational corporations to startups around the world. Led by the values of service, innovation, and talent, the firm has been recognized by the Financial Times for innovations in justice and civil rights in 2023, Law360 and Bloomberg Law for inclusion and diversity efforts in 2022, among many other accolades across the industry.

An extension of this commitment to the community and inclusion is fostering strong partnerships with non-profits, including the Merit School of Music where several Morgan Lewis attorneys are active and steadfast supporters. Partners Tom Linguanti and Julie Stapel currently serve on Merit’s Board of Trustees, associate Tom Severson is a member of the Merit Associate Board, and Merit Life Trustee Nina Stillman is a founding partner (retired) of the firm’s Chicago office. Each has made significant impacts on the culture, history, and success of Merit through their dedicated service to the students and community. We are so truly grateful for their commitment and leadership within the organization.

Merit also has ample first-hand experience in the strength of the partnerships Morgan Lewis seeks to foster with its clients. Offering countless hours of pro bono consultations, the firm has guided Merit through many milestones in its development including helping to review and establish Board By-Laws, governing documents, and expansion to new sites. Their support and expertise ensure that Merit continues to operate at the highest levels so that we may provide excellent music education to so many deserving Chicago youth.

Gala Chairs

Duffie Adelson, Joe & Madeleine Glossberg, and Susie Pfaelzer Sultan & John Sultan

Sponsorships & Levels of Support

2024 Circle of Merit Music Champions (in formation)

Presenting Sponsors

Richard and Helen Thomas & Family

Leadership Circle

Ginny and Peter Foreman
Howard L. Gottlieb and Barbara Greis
Caroline and Charlie Huebner
Morgan Lewis, Thomas Linguanti & Olivia Tyrrell, and Julie Stapel & David Kalat
The Negaunee Foundation
Carol Prins and John Hart
Earl Rusnak, Jr.M and Sandra Rusnak




Julie and Dan Baumeister
The Bluhm Family Charitable Foundation
Joan and Robert Feitler
Joe and Madeleine Glossberg
Janice L. Honigberg
Judy and Verne Istock
Lori Julian for the Julian Family Foundation
Anne L. Kaplan
Thomas and Janet Leopold
Lorna and Ellard L. Pfaelzer, Jr. 
David P. Thomas and Vesna Radisic


Michael Andrews and Ryan Ruskin
Baker McKenzie
Huan J. Chang & Robert R. Stauffer and Jenner & Block
Carol and John Clavadetscher
Alexandra Demers and Jeff Hlavacek
Ryan and Amy DeVore
Dr. Derrick Gay
Matthew and Marynelly Grusecki & David A. Schulz
John and Julia Howard
Marisela and JK Lawson
Robert M. and Diane vS. Levy
Norton Rose Fulbright US LLP
Cathy and Bill Osborn
Ann and Ray Rusnak
Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan
Liz Stiffel
Nina G. Stillman
Susie Pfaelzer Sultan and John Sultan
U.S. Bank
Jennifer Vianello and David Showalter
William Blair
Sheri and Sherwin Zuckerman


Duffie A. Adelson
Dearborn Capital Partners
Jason and Caitlin Gatchell
Heidi Lukas and Charlie Grode
Jennifer and Reg Montague
Cynthia Mufarreh and Gaston Yordan
Nishad and Pinkey Parmar – LOUD Capital
Abiman Rajadurai and Joanna Bartold
Dia S. Weil


Susan and Lawrence Aaron
Winnie and Bob Crawford
Philip M. Friedmann
Ellen and Paul Gignilliat
Anne and William Goldstein
Andy Goodwin and Sarah Heil
King Harris
The Neisser Family Foundation
Shelley Ochab and Chester A. Gougis
Ann and Harry Oppenheimer
T. Rowe Price Private Asset Management
Burt and Sheli Rosenberg
Doris Roskin
Marilyn and Michael Vender
Todd Wiener and Paula Jacobi
Anqi Zhang and Alan Xi


Meredith Barber and Tom Fitzsimmons
Craft Mechanical
Robert Kohl and Clark Pellett
Robert and Sara Leopold
Joe and Laurie Ryan
Megan and Steve Shebik
Donna and Tom Stone


Dori and Mike Becker
Andrew and Shaun Block
Emily and Jim Borovsky
Tim Calkins and Carol Saltoun
Greg and Marcy Carlin
Lois and Steve Eisen
Stuart Flack
Heather Haukness and David Bentrem
Mr. and Mrs. Samuel J. Henry
Toby and Larry Hollander
Mr. and Mrs. Randy Iaboni
Scott and Michele Irvin
Debra Kerr and Steven Thompson
Michael and Mary Phelan Lappe
M. James and Cathie Leider
Patricia M. Livingston
Henry Loeb
The Loewenthal Fund at The Chicago Community Foundation
Anne and Mitch Macknin Family Fund
Ken and Darrelyn Marx
Britt M. Miller
Sylvia Neil and Daniel Fischel
Michelle and Paul Pessis
Deborah Pugh and Jim Shapiro
Deborah F. Rutter
Seyfarth Shaw LLP
Dr. and Mrs. Kim Sobinsky
Peggy and James H. Swartchild, Jr.
Craig and Kay Tuber
Audrey M. Turner, Ed.D
Karen and Ed Weil
Sallyan Windt
Sally and Shepherd Young


MIn Memoriam

Levels of Support

Merit School of Music deeply appreciates the individuals and organizations who celebrate the accomplishments of our honorees, Ellard (Butch) L. Pfaelzer, Jr. and Thomas (Tom) M. Leopold—music lovers, advocates for youth, and supporters of Merit since it was founded in 1979.

In addition to the opportunities listed below, benefactors of $5,000+ will receive special acknowledgment of their support in the Gala invitation, on the Gala webpage, and in Merit’s annual report.

Presenting Sponsor | $100,000

  • A premier table in the ballroom for 10 guests at the Gala
  • Topmost premier recognition of your support in the Gala event materials

Leadership Circle | $50,000

  • A premier table in the ballroom for 10 guests at the Gala
  • Premier recognition of your support in the Gala event materials

Maestro | $40,000

  • A priority table in the ballroom for 10 guests at the Gala
  • Priority recognition of your support in the Gala event materials

Virtuoso | $25,000

  • A prime table in the ballroom for 10 guests at the Gala
  • Prime recognition of your support in the Gala event materials

Concertmaster | $10,000

  • A preferred table in the ballroom for 10 guests at the Gala
  • Preferred recognition of your support in the Gala event materials

Vivace | $7,500

  • A reserved table in the ballroom for 10 guests at the Gala
  • Recognition of your support in the Gala event materials

Photos courtesy of Kyle Flubacker and Todd Rosenberg.

Guests at Gala 2024 heard directly from several students, who shared their experience at Merit School of Music and the sense of belonging they feel as part of this community.

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